Home Video Hovel- Bad Actress
I’m sure that director Robert Lee King considers his new film Bad Actress to be a hard-hitting piece of Hollywood satire. Everything about the film, from the DVD cover to the on-the-nose dialogue, seems to indicate that King thinks he has made a scathing indictment of celebrity culture in America. This is, of course, not the case. While Bad Actress certainly tries hard, and is occasionally entertaining, it falls flat as a satire.
The story involves the shady dealings of a washed-up television actress, Alyssa, currently married to a loutish man that owns a chain of appliance stores in the San Fernando Valley. A series of unfortunate events causes Alyssa’s husband to have a sudden change of heart. Once a money-obsessed cynic, he decides that he wants to give it all away and work toward inner peace and saving the rainforest. Alyssa is terrified at the notion that she and her children will suddenly be left with nothing, so she works with her husband’s cousin to murder him.
They attempt to cover it up, but there isn’t a lot of trust in the family. The characters stab each other in the back (and, yes, occasionally in the chest) as they attempt to trip each other up. Sometimes their motives are pure, sometimes not. Eventually, we find ourselves not really liking or rooting for anybody.
Not that that’s a bad thing, of course. There weren’t a lot of people to root for in Network, either. But that film was not only decades ahead of its time- which is always makes for good satire- but featured great actors speaking smart, sharp dialogue. When Bad Actress decides that it wants to examine the pass that we tend to give celebrities, it certainly doesn’t feel ahead of its time. In fact, it feels about ten or fifteen years too late.
The cast does what it can with the material, but there simply aren’t that many laughs to be found. A story like this needs to be much crazier than it is. There needs to be a heightened, over-the-top sense to the proceedings, even while the characters act as though it is business as usual. Here, the tone is just slightly above mundane, which is death for a murderous comedy.
There is one notable exception; one delightful touch that hints at what this film could have been. Early on in the film, Alyssa discusses her friendship with Corbin Bernsen. At the first of many funerals, Corbin Bernsen shows up, as himself, to give a ridiculous eulogy. The film treats his presence with the right amount of nonchalance, just as it does when he shows up at the second funeral. And the third. It is the film’s refusal to acknowledge Bernsen’s appearance as anything other than run-of-the-mill that makes these scenes genuinely funny. Almost as if the film were to shrug and say, “Yeah, Corbin Bernsen is in this movie. Why wouldn’t he be?”
It is that level of silliness that the film is missing. If the filmmakers were willing to go as far as possible, this might be a movie worth a second look. As it is, it just feels like a more squeamish version of a John Waters film; curious enough to dip its toe in the water, but not bold enough to jump in headfirst.